I am not a consummate lover of NASCAR. However in the interest of all things fast, I will tune in this weekend to the Daytona 500. The 500 is a “Rites of Spring” kind of event for race fans all across the world. Race fans begin to wake from the winter slumber of holidays, snowstorms and four wheel drive to look to the sunshine state for a glimpse of high speed competition. No matter your racing interest, Daytona Speed Weeks, beginning with the 24 Hours, reminds you that you have a pulse and the excitement begins to build.
My friend and former colleague of radio broadcasting, The Redneck, is surely beside himself with excitement. I imagine he is stockpiling cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon and roadkill for a feast of “Critter DeJour”. However he might still be digging himself out from the storms of a couple weeks ago. I will try and find out.
I used to LOVE NASCAR. My change in position might be one of disenfranchisement with the sanctioning body, who have turned this blood and guts sport into a “pillow fight on wheels”. 32 years ago, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison took each other out of the 500 in turn four fighting for the lead–leading to a fist fight of biblical proportion. This was also the first time that the 500 was broadcast LIVE–and so began the legend. Ten years ago, its most colorful character, Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in the most dramatic fashion–holding off the pack as his two other entered cars, including one piloted by his son, finished one-two. It had developed a Vince McMahon-style story line and was seeing immense growth, while the Tony George-instigated split of CART had destroyed the mystique of open wheel racing. It may very well be my faithfulness to American racing began to wane at this point.
The Cup cars have become Spec-racers, however the speeds achieved during the Bud Shootout on the repaved Daytona International Raceway, and the potential for genuine three-wide racing could begin a new era from a competition standpoint. But somehow, I know the sanctioning body will shift its weight once it gets interesting again. Restricter-plates will be replaced with sealed fuel injection (wow! Fuel Injection! NASCAR has really come of age! See Corvettes, circa 1968).
Here’s what I would like to see: A throwback. Cars from the showroom, unlimited speeds and mods, colorful characters who are not bowing down to corporate America (yes, I know. Necessary evil). Whatever happened to Goody’s and Holly Farms? This is not ever to be again. So I guess I will plop down in my recliner, turn on FOX, pop open a San Pellegrino with a squeeze of lime and see what the latest rules have done to this once grassroots, home-distilled, barbecued, blood and guts sport. But once that is over I will generally only tune into Bristol, Watkins Glen, Infineon and Talledega because it is almost time for the Circus (that is F1 speak, for the uninitiated) to begin its trek around the world–including a stop in the US again!
Another cool piece of news: Road America has resurrected its relationship with Chevrolet as Official Car! This means once again, that a look up the hill from turn 5 will have the word “Corvette” across the landmark bridge. I never could stomach “Toyota” being there for the last 20 years–not because I dislike the brand, but simply because it meant something–like Marshall Field’s becoming Macy’s or the Sears Tower becoming….what’s it called again?
Enjoy the race this weekend. It’s time to wake up!